Wirksworth is a market town in the Derbyshire Dales district of Derbyshire, England, with a population recorded as 5,038 in the 2011 census.[1] It contains the source of the River Ecclesbourne. The town was granted a market charter by Edward I in 1306. The market is held today on Tuesdays in the Memorial Gardens. The parish church of St Mary's is thought to date from 653. Wirksworth developed as a centre for lead mining and later stone quarrying. Many lead mines in the area were owned by the Gell family of nearby Hopton Hall.


Market Place
Location within Derbyshire
Population5,038 (Parish, 2011)[1]
OS grid referenceSK2853
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townMATLOCK
Postcode districtDE4
Dialling code01629
AmbulanceEast Midlands
EU ParliamentEast Midlands
UK Parliament


The origins of Wirksworth are considered to be dependent on the presence of thermal warm water springs in the immediate vicinity[2] coupled with a relatively sheltered location at the head of a glaciated valley, which was capable of producing cereals such as oats and provided fine woodland with wood suitable for building.

The location of Wirksworth in the White Peak is well known for its Neolithic and Bronze Age remains.[3]

Woolly rhino bones were found by lead miners in 1822, in Dream Cave, on private land between Wirksworth and present-day Carsington Water. Another nearby cave at Carsington Pasture yielded prehistoric finds in the late 20th century.[4]

In Roman Britain the limestone area of present-day Derbyshire was an important source of lead, with the primary area of production probably being around Lutudarum in the hills south and west of present-day Matlock.[5] Wirksworth is one of the candidates for the site of Lutudarum.[2] Roman roads lead to Buxton (The Street) and to Brough on Noe (The Portway) from the town,[6] which also has the oldest charter of any in the Peak District, dating from AD 835, when the Abbess of Wirksworth granted land around the town to Duke Humbert of Mercia.[2]

Wirksworth is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086.[7] Outlying farms or berwicks were Cromford, Middleton, Hopton, Wellesdene (sic), Carsington, Kirk Ireton and Callow. The ancient Wirksworth wapentake or hundred was named after the town.

In Anglo-Saxon times there were many lead mines owned by the abbey of Repton. Three lead mines are identified in the entry for Wirksworth in the Domesday Book.[7] There is a tiny carving in Wirksworth Church, taken from Bonsall Church during a restoration project and never returned, of a miner with his pick and "kibble" or basket. The carving is known as "th' Owd Man of Bonsall." The ore was washed out by means of a sieve, the iron wire for which had been drawn in Hathersage since the Middle Ages. Smelting was carried out in "boles", hence the name Bolehill. The lead industry, the miner, the ore and the waste, were known collectively as "t'owd man".

Henry VIII granted a charter to hold a miners' court in the town called the Bar Moot. Every man had the right to dig for ore wherever he chose, except in churchyards, gardens or roadways. All that was necessary to stake a claim was to place one's "stowce" or winch on the site and extract enough ore to pay tribute to the "barmaster". The present Bar Moot building dates from 1814. Within it is a brass dish for measuring the levy which was due to the Crown. Even into the 20th century, the punishment for stealing from a mine was to have one's hand nailed to the stowce. One then had the choice of tearing oneself loose or starving to death. The Barmote Court is still held today, in the Bar Moot hall on Chapel Lane, and controls all matters of lead mining.

By the 18th century there were many thousand lead mines, all worked individually. Defoe gives an eye-witness account of a lead miner's family and of the miner himself at work.[8] At this time, the London Lead Company was formed to provide finance for deeper mines with drainage channels, called soughs, and introduce Newcomen steam-engine pumps.

Many of the institutions in the area have connections with the Gell family, of nearby Hopton Hall, whose most famous member was Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet, who fought on Parliament's side in the Civil War. One of his predecessors, Anthony Gell, founded the local grammar school, and one of his successors, Phillip Gell, opened the curiously named Via Gellia (possibly an allusion to the Roman Via Appia), a road from the family's lead mines around Wirksworth to the smelter in Cromford. More recently he has been remembered in the name of Anthony Gell School.

The carboniferous limestone around Wirksworth has been extensively quarried through the town's history, resulting in several rock faces and cliffs in the hills that surround the town.

There was a workhouse in Wirksworth from 1724 to 1829. Called Babington House, it was located on Green Hill (grid reference SK286541) and housed 60 inmates.[9]

In 1777 Richard Arkwright leased the land and premises of a corn mill from Philip Gell of Hopton and converted it to spin cotton, using his water frame. It was the first cotton mill in the world to use a steam engine, which it used to replenish the millpond that drove the mill's waterwheel.[10][11] This mill was adjacent to another, Speedwell Mill, owned by John Dalley, a local merchant. Arkwright's mill was sublet in 1792, when Arkwright's son, Richard, began to sell off the family's property assets in his move towards banking. It was named Haarlem Mill in 1815, when it was converted to weaving tape, by Madely, Hackett and Riley, who had established Haarlem Tape Works in Derby in 1806. In 1879 the Wheatcroft family, who were producing tape at Speedwell Mill, expanded into Haarlem. The two mills together employed 230 people, and it was said that their weekly output equalled the circumference of the earth, and that Wirksworth was the primary producer of red tape for Whitehall. These mills are close together at Miller's Green next to the Derby road; Haarlem Mill now houses an art collective, while Speedwell Mill is now private houses and a carpentry workshop.


In the 2011 census Wirksworth civil parish had 2,416 dwellings, 2,256 households and a population of 5,038.[1]

Districts of Wirksworth include Yokecliffe, Gorsey Bank, Bolehill, Mountford and Miller's Green. Bolehill, although technically a hamlet in its own right in Wirksworth's suburbs, is the oldest and most northern part of the town, while Yokecliffe is a fairly new estate in the western area of the town. Modern houses have recently been built in the Three Trees area and at the bottom of Steeple Grange. This housing estate is called Spring Close.


There are five schools in Wirksworth:[12] Church of England and county infants, and regular combined but on two sites, Wirksworth Junior School, the Anthony Gell School and Callow Park College. Anthony Gell was a local man who was requested by Agnes Fearne to build a grammar school on her death. The original site is now a private house on the edge of the churchyard. The current school is an 11–18 comprehensive on a larger site by the Hannage Brook with about 800 pupils. The school's four houses are named after Fearne, Arkwright (Sir Richard Arkwright), Wright (Joseph Wright of Derby) and Gell. Its catchment area is the town and the surrounding villages of Middleton, Carsington, Brassington, Kirk Ireton, Turnditch, Matlock Bath, Cromford and Crich. The Anthony Gell School qualifies as a Sports College.

Culture and community


  • Early April – The Wirksworth Book Festival, launched in 2016, is a sister event to the Wirksworth Festival, celebrating books and reading, particularly local writers.[14]
  • Early June: The Wirksworth well dressing and carnival.[15] The well dressing was adapted after the arrival of piped water so that not only wells but taps are decorated.[13][16]
  • First Sunday after 8 September: Clipping or clypping of the church is an ancient custom where the congregation joins hands to encircle the building. This takes place on the Sunday after the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church's dedication.
  • September: Since 1995 the Wirksworth Festival has celebrated and promoted arts in the town. It features crafts, exhibitions and street theatre.[17]
  • First Weekend in December: The Glee Club holds an annual pantomime.

Community facilities

Fanny Shaw's Playing Field, just out of the centre of town, is the principal recreation area for the north of the town. It houses a new skate park and play area. In the south of the town, there is the "Rec", where there is another children's play area, along with cricket and football pitches.

Cultural references

Haarlem Mill has been mentioned as the possible model for the mill in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. The town of Snowfield in George Eliot's Adam Bede is also said to be based in Wirksworth; Dinah Morris, a character in that novel, is based on Eliot's aunt, who lived in Wirksworth and whose husband ran the silk mill, now Wirksworth Heritage Centre.

Wirksworth was the main location of ITV's Sweet Medicine in 2003, having featured as an occasional location in its forerunner, Peak Practice. More recently, some of Mobile was filmed on a train on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, and much of an episode of the BBC series Casualty was set in the town.

Wirksworth features in the 2015 memoir The Long Road Out of Town by author and journalist Greg Watts, who grew up there.[18]

Middle Peak Quarry on the outskirts of Wirksworth featured in the 2010 music video "Unlikely Hero" by the Hoosiers.

Town twinning

Wirksworth is twinned with Die in southern France and with Frankenau in the Kellerwald range south-west of the Talgang, Germany, through the Wirksworth Twinning Association.

Notable residents

In alphabetical order:

  • Abraham Bennet (1749–1799) was curate of Wirksworth and did important early work in electricity, in association with Erasmus Darwin. There is a memorial plaque to him in Wirksworth Church and a portrait by an unknown artist.[19]
  • Anthony Draycot (died 1571) was rector of the parish from 1535 until his imprisonment in 1560. He was the judge at the heresy trial where Joan Waste was condemned to be burnt.[20]
  • D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) lived at Mountain Cottage with his wife Frieda in 1918–1919. It stands below the B5023 road on the edge of Middleton-by-Wirksworth, about 1 12 miles (2.4 km) north-west of Wirksworth. Lawrence reputedly also spent time at Woodland Cottage on the far side of New Road. While in Middleton in the bitter winter of 1918–1919, he wrote the short story "A Wintry Peacock", published in 1921.
  • Frederick Treves (1853–1923), surgeon and author, was in practice in the town in 1877–1879. A house in Coldwell Street is named after him.[21]
  • John Woodward, naturalist (1665–1728), may have been born here.[22]


Wirksworth civil parish contain 108 structures listed by Historic England for their historic or architectural interest. The Parish Church of St Mary is listed Grade I and eight structures (15 Market Place, 35 Green Hill, 1 Coldwell Street, Haarlem Mill, Wigwell Grange, the Red Lion Hotel, Gate House and the former grammar school) are Grade II*.[23] Wirksworth Heritage Centre is just off Market Place in Crown Yard. The exhibition shows the history of Wirksworth from its prehistoric Dream Cave and woolly rhinos, through its Roman and lead mining histories, to the modern era. Other nearby attractions include the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, the Steeple Grange Light Railway and Peak District National Park.

The study Wirksworth and Five Miles Around, written by Richard R Hackett (1843–1900), includes census information, notes on church monuments, accounts of crimes, church wardens' accounts, maps, a transcription of "Ince's pedigrees", monument inscriptions and old photographs, parish registers and wills.


  1. UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report – Wirksworth Parish (1170212845)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  2. M. Wiltshire, 2016, "Wirksworth: A History", Bannister Publications (Chesterfield).
  3. Hart CR, 1984, "The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD 1500", Derbyshire Archaeological Society, pp. 17-68.
  4. Wirksworth history site [http://gowirksworth.com/sample-pages/history/ Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  5. Millward, Roy; Robinson, Adrian (1975). The Peak District. The Regions of Britain. Eyre Methuen. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-0-413-31550-2.
  6. Wirksworth Archaeological Society: Reports.
  7. Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. London: Penguin, 2003, p. 741. ISBN 0-14-143994-7
  8. Daniel Defoe, (c. 1724) A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies: Letter 8, Part 2: The Peak District, Reprinted: London: J. M. Dent and Co, 1927 Archived 8 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  9. P. Higginbotham (2007), Workhouses of the Midlands, Tempus, Stroud, p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7524-4488-8
  10. Fitton, R. S. (1989), The Arkwrights: spinners of fortune, Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 57, ISBN 978-0-7190-2646-1, retrieved 14 August 2010
  11. Tann, Jennifer (July 1979), "Arkwright's Employment of Steam Power", Business History, 21 (2): 248, doi:10.1080/00076797900000030
  12. "Wirksworth Federation Infant Schools". Wirksworth-federation-inf.ik.org. 30 April 2012. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  13. 1860s picture, PictureThePast, Retrieved August 2009
  14. "Second year for Wirksworth Book Festival". Wirksworth Festival. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  15. Archived 2 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. "carnival site". Wirksworthcarnival.co.uk. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  17. "Town hall lifts curtain to reveal major makeover". Derby Telegraph. 27 December 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  18. Peddy, Chris (8 March 2015). "'I escaped Wirksworth but failed to become a priest', reveals Derbyshire writer Greg Watts". Derby Telegraph. Archived from the original on 21 May 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  19. Elliott, P. (1999), "Abraham Bennet F. R. S. (1749–1799): a provincial electrician in 18th-century England" (PDF), Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 53 (1): 59–78, doi:10.1098/rsnr.1999.0063.
  20. Gordon Goodwin, "Draycot, Anthony (d. 1571)", rev. Andrew A. Chibi, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 28 Feb 2009
  21. "WIRKSWORTH-Parish Records 1608-1899-Old Photos". Wirksworth.org.uk.
  22. ODNB entry for John Woodward: Retrieved 14 October 2011. Pay-walled.
  23. "Listed Buildings in Wirksworth, Derbyshire Dales, Derbyshire". britishlistedbuildings.co.uk. Retrieved 13 April 2017.

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